Ben Stiller directs and stars in the adaptation of James Thurber’s classic short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As Stiller directs his first non-comedy, he begins to show skill for being able to create a unique visual style and able to inhabit the character of Walter Mitty. All of the work by Stiller is great; it’s just the writing and supporting characters that fall behind.
In a world full of actor/directors, (including the critically acclaimed Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney) Stiller is one of the most underrated. The extensive daydreams that Walter Mitty experiences are very well shot and edited, as well as fitting the context of the story and being very creative. This is credited to Stiller’s visual eye and creative filmmaking techniques. Stiller also is able to bring a sense of humor to the film that makes it even more engaging.
On a pure technical level, the film is beautiful to look at, with many innovative camera shots and visual effects. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh truly does deserve an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography, as the beauty of the shots is due to the camerawork. The visual effects are also worthy of praise, as they look very good and are used to further the story.
The pacing of the film starts off slow, but once the film hits its halfway point it kicks into a fun adventure. The beginning has enough humor and fun daydream sequences to maintain engagement, but the film still drags and at many times loses context. However, the second half hits the point of the story and kick starts a fun adventure with some truly beautiful sequences, such as the scenic views of the ocean, mountains, and landscapes.
Ben Stiller does a good job at playing Walter Mitty, but most of the credit of creating the character is due to his directorial efforts. While the story doesn’t really follow any of the storylines of James Thurber’s classic story, it maintains true to the story’s themes and characters, which is due to Stiller’s performance. Kristen Wiig does a good job at playing Stiller’s love interest and has good chemistry with Stiller throughout. Sean Penn has a smaller role, but he also does a good job.
However, many of the supporting characters are completely stereotypical and lack any depth. Adam Scott’s character is completely one-dimensional as the overbearing and annoying boss who takes over and ruins Mitty’s life. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahns’ characters also fell completely stereotypical as the annoying but loving family members. These characters in the end are useless to the story. While the actors struggle to give good performances, the problem is ultimately with the script.
Another small issue with the film is its use of product placement. While the film will obviously feature Life magazine, there is some moments with other companies that shamelessly advertise their products. However, it only comes up a few times and doesn’t damage the film in any major way.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a well directed film with fantastic cinematography and visuals, as well as strong performances by Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, and Sean Penn. The film suffers from a slow first half, some poor supporting characters, and minor product placement. In the end, Stiller is worthy of praise for his efforts on the film and the film itself is a very enjoyable one. Grade: +B